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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DirtFish Dogbox

They may be bright orange on the outside, but underneath, its all VTSC modifed (Click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

After blowing up 2nd gear at Gorman Ridge Rally earlier this year, its time for a new transmission. Through some searching, networking, and a little sponsorship wheeling and dealing, I'll be installing a brand new Modena 5speed dogbox (with Group N ratios) in the rally car this January.

Its pretty exciting and overwhelming at the same time....going from a stock synchro transmission to a top-of-the-line, world class Modena dogbox. Super cool? Yes. Over my head? Definitely! (but hey, that's how I rolllllllllll)

I needed some seat time/professional tips, and fast. Enter DirtFish Rally School.

Quite the quiver of cars....I took the one in the middle. (click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

After reading a few initial and very positive reviews of the DirtFish rally school up in Snoqualmie, WA (www.dirtfish.com) and hearing a rumor that they had a few cars with dogbox transmissions, I decided to send Greg Lund and email and see what my options were. I didn't make it easy on Greg...."I don't have $1000 and I don't even have a full day, I'm just up for the weekend visiting friends, so maybe I have a few hours tops....whatchya got?" Greg was happy to accommodate and set me up with a short 1 on 1 training session with Forest Duplessis and a bright orange Group N STI from Vermont Sports Car.

The other reviews can be found here:
DirtyImpreza Review

Forest and I started up with a quick tour of their office facilities (which consisted of us drooling over the Colin McRae WRC Ford Focus engine bay for a few minutes) and then a few minutes of classroom time. Basic up and down shifting of a dogbox is pretty straightforward, but I was more interested in how to quickly and efficiently downshift a few gears from a fast straight into a right 3 or left 2 without blowing the whole thing up....uh....again.

Going through the basics of up shifting and downshifting was easy enough, with just a few caveats and little bit of adjusting my current driving style. Up shifting is a breeze...and I do mean easy. You still use the clutch to lengthen the life of the dog rings, but you just jab at it quickly, and its disgustingly fast and smooth; it took me a few times to realize that I actually shifted gears. I kept waiting for the all familiar synchros meshing feeling, only to find that the car was already in gear and pushing up the RPMs...by the time I realized I was actually in second, it was time for 3rd.

PHOTO: Gene Thompson

Downshifting is a little different. Forest demonstrated that under hard braking, its even easier.

Yes, I said easier.

With the transmission decelerating almost as quickly as the engine, once you let up off the gas and get hard on the brake (enter: LOTS of left foot braking) its just a matter of flicking the shifter down one gear....then another, and then its just a question of how low do you want to go?

And did I mention this part was all without the clutch? (I was literally giggling like a little girl once I got the hang of it. Like a
little girl.)

Once we got straight line shifting down, it was time to move to a more practical situation...pulling all the way to 4th gear and then shutting it down and throwing it into a tight corner. DirtFish has several areas to play in, but we mostly stayed in one area and just did loop after loop after loop. The stage notes would have looked something like:

START dip 250 R3 into L1 hairpin, NC 50 L4 250 dip L3 NC into R2 FINISH

Oh yeah, the 'dips' were full of water! (click for full size) PHOTO: Gene Thompson

This is where things got harder. First, while I already use LFB when necessary in a corner, it hasn't been my main method of getting on the brake, so I had to fight the instinct of getting off the gas with my right and going directly to the brake pedal, and the same with my left foot getting on the clutch when I want to downshift.

With the dogbox and trail braking, you can literally stand on the brake with your left foot (yes, brake booster is deleted), late, late, brake....and then get the car turning while you're still trail braking and then getting back on the gas as the car is turned and hitting your apex. Oh yeah, and you're clutchless downshifting the whole time you're on the brake (giggle).

THAT sequence of events, all the while getting used to using my left foot for the brake and not the clutch, was a little more difficult to master, and this is where Forest's teaching skills and patience really came into play. He was great....seriously....I used to teach little 3 and 4 year old kids how to ski, and people always seemed impressed by that, but even I know that teaching an adult male, who thinks he knows something about driving, how to drive a car a certain way, and make him repeat it, over and over and over again....(without anyone getting pissed off) that's impressive.

I think we took that loop probably about thirty five times or so, and after each one, Forest was like....'good....again.' 'Do it again.' 'Stop, ok...now do it a little different, OK? Now again.'

Did I do that?
PHOTO: Gene Thompson

About the time I started feeling a little guilty about destroying a full set of their rally tires, we looked at the clock and realized 90 minutes had already gone by and it was time to head back to the garage. They didn't even make me hose off the car or fix the bumper!

I went home with a big ass smile on my face and a new confidence about where this transmission project will take me next year. With a lot more practice and a little bit of patience on the first few stages, 2011 is going to be a fun season.


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